“Peace of Fruit” on Ephesians 2:11-22 by Joe Ellis – June 26, 2022
Imagine a society that has a set of laws that create a huge amount of tension among the people who live in that society. Because of these laws, there are insiders and outsiders. Groups are formed based on whether or not they comply with the set of laws. Imagine you could tell which group they belonged to just by the way the people acted, what the people wore, how they looked, what they did or didn’t put in their bodies, or by who they associated with. Imagine that because of this set of laws, the tensions between these two groups kept growing and growing. That the law abiding citizens were able to go places that the non-complying ones couldn’t go, that the tensions grew so high that they wouldn’t eat at the same table or step under the same roof. Imagine that the tensions grew so high that they eventually began to threaten to physically harm members from the other group, arrest members from the other group, call members from the other group names depending on whether or not you complied with the certain set of laws. Now, imagine that suddenly the person who ratified that set of laws suddenly repealed those laws — that observance of the laws which were once so important, now were optional, a matter of conscience or personal preference. How do you think the relationships between those two groups would fair going forward? Do you think all the tensions would melt away simply with the law suddenly being repealed? Do you think a new normal would quickly emerge, and that all of a sudden, people from the two groups would be best friends, share meals together, do things together that were previously impossible because of that set of laws?
None of us likely had any difficulty imagining such a situation. This is exactly the situation we have now found ourselves in. Our communities have experienced profound disagreement over a set of laws, and now that they have been repealed, we are wondering what to do, and if relationships can resume as they were. Can we get along with those who landed on a different side? Is it safe to get along? What if those laws come back? What about the hurtful things said and done over those years — do they not matter anymore? Will those dividing lines stay, even though the laws themselves have been removed? Are the dividing lines deeper than the laws? Those questions need to be asked.
The early church had to wrestle through exactly this situation. In Ephesians 2:11-22 , Paul is speaking about two groups — Jews and Gentiles (the name ‘Gentiles’ was a Jewish term that lumped together anyone who wasn’t Jewish. Greeks and Romans called themselves Greeks and Romans, not Gentiles). Both groups saw each other as outsiders. The Greeks and Romans saw the Jews as total outsiders, but so did the Jews towards the Greeks and Romans. Listen to the way Paul describes the way the Greeks and Romans were outsiders. He says in v. 12, “You were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world”. It’s not possible to be more of an outsider than what Paul described here. The Greeks and Romans were excluded from membership in the people of Israel. In Torah, there were a set of laws specifically designed to mark out the people of Israel as God’s people....what you ate, which days you worked, circumcision, where and how and who you worshiped. Initially, these laws were intended to help Israel be a light to the nations, to show the surrounding nations what it looked like to live under God’s authority. But the light also highlighted the sinfulness of other nations as well. Eventually, the laws highlighted the differences between the Jews and Gentiles, and came to reinforce the basic fact that “you are not us.” Both groups felt that keenly: “You are not us.” And a huge wall or fence eventually emerged between these two groups. That’s what Paul’s talking about in verse 14, when he refers to the law as a wall, or a fence — He calls it a fence of hostility. Because that was the impact of Torah had on these people groups. Torah, the law, became a fence that bred hostility. It was a two-way street. Romans came and conquered the Jewish people and would crucify any Jew who didn’t submit to the ‘peace’ they brought. And on the other hand, if you walked into the Jewish temple, at a certain point you’d see a sign that says Gentiles cannot go further on pain of death.
The early church’ conflict is different from our story in many ways, but I think the connections are really important to make for two reasons. Firstly, our experience around Covid restrictions that were enforced and then removed, can help us to understand the challenges of relationship that took place when Jews, Greeks, and Romans were suddenly sharing their table.
Secondly, the early church’s experience is a testimony to us that God empowers us to press through the hostility by the witness of the Gospel and the strength of the Holy Spirit. This is nothing less than a Gospel issue. Paul says in v. 13-14, “But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, the one who made both groups into one, and who has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall (or fence) of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.” Here, Paul is saying that when Christ was crucified He removed the fence of the law. He took the curse of the law on Himself, so that it is no longer binding in the way it was. On the cross, Christ removed the law as a reason for hostility between the two groups. But then he goes beyond just removing the barrier to fellowship, Christ’s purpose goes beyond simply digging up the fence. Paul says that Jesus dug up the fence in order to “create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross by which he put to death their hostility.”(v. 15)
Note this — Christ did not simply remove the fence and say “Look, you can be friends now! Nothing is coming between you!” The work of Christ goes much deeper. His purpose is to make these people who were formerly hostile to one another, into a new family — brothers and sisters. It’s not simply that the Greeks became Jews — rather both Jew and Greek are given a new humanity in Christ, they become a new creation. This is a part of the Gospel often missed. We emphasize that the cross made the way for us to be reconciled to God, but we often miss that on the cross Jesus made the way for us to be reconciled with one another. Jesus put to death the hostility that existed between us and them in the family of God (whoever the “us and them” might be). He has made us a new creation, this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, reconciliation between God and humans, and reconciliation of humans with one another. God points at us as proof that his plan worked. Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 3:10-11: “God’s intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God shows the wisdom and power of the cross by pointing at us, His church. God points out the fact that in Christ, men and women from radically different walks of life can come together as one body and worship together our Father in Heaven. He points this out to Satan and his fallen angels — to the unity and diversity found in His church is a sign of the wisdom of the Cross. For the only basis for membership in God’s family is the fact that we are washed clean by the blood of Christ. There are no fences! Just the grace of the forgiveness of our sins. We all share the same status as sinners washed clean by Christ’s blood — that is the only basis on which we have peace with God and peace with one another. There are no other fences.
So God points at the diversity and the unity found in the church as a sign of his glorious wisdom. He ripped out the fence of the law that was so disruptive to peace. Sadly, Christians do seem to have a knack of putting up their own fences. We have no end of fencing material. We have warehouses of fencing material, and we haul out the fences as needed:
We see fences might be around Christians with a traditional sexual ethic, thinking to be a part of our church you need to have a traditional sexual orientation. Or another fence might be around an affirming sexual ethic, thinking that to be a part of our church you need to be affirming of the LGBTQ+ individuals.
Another fence might be around climate change with the idea that our church thinks it’s a real thing, or our church thinks it’s just a liberal bid for power.
Another fence could be around worship styles, like “We do high liturgy” or “We let the Holy Spirit move us.”
Another fence is around which brand of theology you think is right.
Then there are fences around having a high or low income.
Another fence might be around voting left or right.
Another fence might be around a particular view of baptism or the Lord’s Supper.
Still another fence might be around race and ethnicity — what colour the church looks like.
Another fence might be around views around Covid.
Another fence might concern whether to ordain women in office, or to ordain only men.
Another fence might be a particular view of Genesis 1, that God created the world in seven literal days. Another church says He could’ve worked through evolution.
Another fence could be the view that faith should be intellectual, those on the other side of that fence say that the intellect gets in the way of faith.
Another fence might be the belief there should be no fences.
I could go on. These fences crisscross and intersect, creating smaller and smaller enclosures — in a town this size we might only find a handful of people with the exact same crisscrossing of fences. Sometimes we might get so disillusioned that other people’s fences aren’t the same as our own personal fences that we check out entirely. We like to live a life where we can set up our own perfect arrangement of fences, that perfectly suits our taste. These fences, like that original fence in Torah, create division and hostility, working against peace in the body of Christ.
God does not display his wisdom to the spiritual powers of darkness by pointing at his church and saying, “See how good they are at putting up fences!” “See how good they are at isolating from one another!” “See how well they can say what’s wrong with the other group!”
Now, I’ll name a tension. When you read the New Testament — every writer is unanimous that faith in Jesus and His sacrificial death on the cross is the only requisite for being a part of the body of Christ. In Ephesians 2, Paul says that even faith is a gift. Faith in Christ is the only thing required to be part of God’s family. Yet, as you read every writer of the New Testament, it appears that each writer has different fences going up. After all, nearly every single one of the Ten Commandments is offered as something expected of us as Christians to follow. Nearly every letter in the New Testament is responding to some fencing problem or another. The New Testament writers are helping churches work through the problem of a missing fence (like “You’re permitting that man to continue sleeping with his father’s wife?), or it might be a fence needing to be taken down (like “You can’t require Greeks and Romans to be circumcised!”). This need we seem to have to do fence-work can seriously threaten the peace that Christ has won for us — which is the fact that we are all sinners saved by grace, and fence of the law has been taken down. So, how do we live into peace in such a tenuous situation?
Here is where we talk about the Spirit in relation to peace. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit. Peace is something given by God empowering us to live our lives as followers of Jesus. In the last part of this passage, Paul speaks of the unity and diversity that we enjoy in the church as the outcome of the working of the Holy Spirit. Listen to verses 21 through 22: “In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Do you hear what Paul is saying? It is the work of God to build us up into a family — Paul uses a building metaphor. God, the Holy Spirit, builds us into a house, into His Temple. The Temple is the place of the presence of God where the Holy Spirit dwells. But the Holy Spirit is the one who fits each of us together. Each of us are living stones that God is using to build His temple that will give him glory. But as living stones, we are each so differently shaped. God takes each one of us, and fits us together, forming us into His temple — the place of His presence. So, in a context where Paul is talking about two formerly hostile people groups coming together and being united by the peace of Christ, here we learn that this is made possible by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit shapes us so that we can live together in peace. Through the Holy Spirit, it is possible for us to live in harmony with those who are incredibly different than us — In the power of the Spirit we can stay in fellowship with one another, despite our sometimes glaring differences. That is far easier said than done.
So — how do we partner with the Holy Spirit as we pursue the fruit of peace in our own lives and in our lives together, when it is so easy to throw up fences? I think there are two main practices that we can do. We get our first cue from Jesus in the Gospel of John. Before Jesus was arrested, John tells us that Jesus prayed for us (future believers). In John 17:20-21, Jesus prayed: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Note here, too, Jesus says that our unity together will be a testimony to the world of the wisdom of God. Notice that Jesus believed that peace amongst His followers was a worthwhile thing to pray for.
As we journeyed through these past two years, and felt so much tension in our church family, I wish I had prayed more. As we encounter people who are different, as we experience tensions with others, as we can feel the presence of a fence between us, as we feel the peace of Christ threatened — let us be a people whose first instinct is to pray. Christ is our peace, and as we pray, the Holy Spirit will surely make peace evident in our lives. We may need to play the long game, we might find ourselves praying for peace and reconciliation for years — but we must never lost sight of peace as the goal to which the Spirit is leading us.
There is a second practice to help cultivate peace in the family of God — earlier I talked about how the New Testament writers seem to be setting up all sorts of fences. You read things about what to do and what not to do, what behaviour is or isn’t fitting for the covenant people of God. Yet, these writers are not simply replacing an old fence with a new fence. They are not simply replacing the old set of laws with a new set of laws, thereby creating new opportunities for hostility. These writers all share the conviction that because we have received the Holy Spirit, how we relate to God changes, how we relate to each other changes, how we relate to creation changes, and how we relate to ourselves changes. The Spirit changes our relationships with everything. What we read as commands or laws in the New Testament are simply these writers saying: Be who you are! Be who Christ has created you to be by the power of his blood and through the Holy Spirit! The old you has died, (Colossians 3) be the new you who has been formed by the Holy Spirit of Christ Jesus! Do you see the difference? It’s not so much, “This is the fence, make sure you’re on the right side.” Rather it’s: “In Christ you are a new creation — be who you are.”
This means that as a church, our focus is to be less on setting up particular fences and feeling at peace only when people are on the side of the fence we think they should be. Rather, let’s have our focus be on pursuing closeness with God, the Holy Spirit. Let us have our primary focus be on engaging in relationship with God through practices that help grow us in intimacy with Jesus.
Let’s pursue this together, trusting that as we help one another grow in intimacy with Jesus, the Spirit will make us to more and more resemble Christ. That process is called sanctification. The Holy Spirit will makes us resemble Jesus as we continue to draw close to God through spiritual practices. There is no real formula for what these practices look like(like Bible reading, worshiping, fasting, meditating, etc.), it looks different depending on what our life situation is and how God is calling us. But let’s be a church that helps and encourages each other in drawing close to Jesus through developing a Spirit-filled life.
Of course, we still will have disagreements about what it will look like to live out our faith. Fences might pop up here and there, and we might find our peace threatened by hostility. Yet, because we’ve been walking with the Holy Spirit and being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, we can come up to that fence with all the fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We can bring these fruit alongside that fence, look at our brother or sister on the other side and say, “Peace be with you. What should we do about this fence?”